Frequentyl Asked Questions
What is Montessori
1. What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?
North Garland Montessori School - FAQ #1 - What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?
Age span of at least three years in a class. One age per class.
Children reinforce their own learning by repetition of work and internal feelings of success. Learning is reinforced externally (rewards, stickers etc.).
Method emphasizes becoming aware of One's abilities and social development. Method emphasizes social development.
Direct contact with multi-sensory materials. Much information dispensed by lecture.
Highly organized sets of graduated materials-mostly three dimensional and "concrete". Mostly abstract- books, papers, etc.
Develops wise use of free choice. Very few choices.
Learns about care of one's self and environment. Less emphasis on self-learning instruction.
Environment and method encourage self-discipline. Teacher acts as primary enforcer of discipline.
Mostly one-on-one instruction. Group and individual instruction.
2. What do you mean by "The Inner Life of a Child?"
North Garland Montessori School - FAQ #2 - What do you mean by The Inner Life of a Child?

Montessori teaches us to look at each child as a unique being who has never lived before; a spiritual embryo alive with possibility and ready to grow spiritually, morally, and psychologically. She wrote:

"Human beings are formed slowly. Each of us is "worked by hand," and each individual is different from every other, having his own distinctive spirit, as if he were a natural work of art. The process takes many years. The inner life of the child is an enigma. The only thing we know about him is that he could be anything, but nobody knows what he will be or what he will do. Human development is exactly likethe process necessary to produce a work of art that the artist, sequestered in the intimacy of his studio, modifies and transforms before he brings it before the public. The process by which the human personality is formed is in the hidden work of incarnation."

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Montessori thought of the child as a spiritual embryo - a personality in the process of development - which must eventually be able to operate on its own in the world. Like the human embryo before birth, the spiritual embryo that is the young child must be protected from a hostile psychological environment by the warmth of our love and acceptance.

Many adults mistakenly believe that children develop their character solely through our care and upbringing. They believe that parents can shape a child's personality and destiny through moral instruction.

Our primary role as parents is to help our children to become mature, independent and responsible. Unfortunately we often misunderstand what we can do, and what we must not do, if we truly want to facilitate this process. We tend to over-protect, not realizing that our children can only learn about life through trial and error, just as we did.

Parents unconsciously tended to hinder and frustrate the child's process of spiritual growth although we may operate from the best of intentions.

Children carry within themselves the key to their own development. Their early attempts to express their individuality are hesitant and tentative. Our children think that we are all-wise and all-powerful. They are easily overwhelmed by our best intentions. Our efforts to protect our children from mistakes that seem so obvious from our perspective tend to frustrate their process of learning about life for themselves.

We have to respect our children's efforts to develop an independent personality, because through this creative process they are literally forming the adults they will become. As parents, It is our duty to attempt to understand the psychological needs of our children and to prepare an environment within our homes for them.

Our role as parents is to help our children learn to live in peace and harmony with all people and the environment. We work to create a home in which our children can learn to function as independent, thinking people.

To truly succeed in our role as parents, we need to treat our children with tremendous respect as full and complete human beings who happen to be in our care. Our children need to feel that it is okay to be who and what they are.

We need to really let them feel our respect; it is not enough to simply say the words. If they believe that they are not living up to our expectations, that we are disappointed in the people they are becoming, they may be emotionally scarred for a lifetime. A child who feels unaccepted by his parents can only wander through life looking in from the outside like a stranger.

3. What Children Get Out Of Montessori?
North Garland Montessori School - FAQ - What Children Get Out Of Montessori?

When we try to define what our children really "get" from Montessori, we need to expand our vision to include more than just the basics. Of course they learn to read, do four-digit mathematics, recognize geometric shapes, and identify the parts of a plant and a mollusk. They also learn how to be a contributing member of a community. A Montessori school is more than a classroom. It is society in a microcosm, and the skills and lessons they learn in this environment extend well beyond the definition of academic success. They are life lessons that were very much needed at the time when Dr. Montessori developed her teaching methodology, and they are life lessons that are still very much needed by our children today.

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"The basic nature of our society and the family itself have changed radically, and only an equally radical change in education will suffice". (John Dewey, School and Society, 1899.)

In her recent book, The School home (Harvard University Press, 1992), Dr. Judith Rowland Martin writes that she was not very impressed when she first encountered Montessori education. She understood that Montessori schools placed children in multiage classrooms and used manipulative learning materials, which may have been very unusual during Montessori's lifetime, but has since been incorporated into most early childhood and many elementary classrooms thanks to the Open Classroom movement of the 1960s.

However, Dr. Martin's understanding of the value of the Montessori approach became clearer when she came across a statement in Dorothy Canfield Fisher's book, A Montessori Mother, in which Fisher disagrees with the universal interpretation given to Montessori's "Casa dei Bambini" or "Children's House."

In A Montessori Mother, one of the first books about Dr. Montessori's work, first published in 1912, Dorothy Canfield Fisher wrote, "The phrase, `Casa dei Bambini,' is being translated everywhere nowadays by English-speaking people as "The Children's House," whereas its real meaning, both linguistic and spiritual is "The Children's Home (or Children's Community, ed.)." Fisher insisted upon this rendering, which she felt offered a much more accurate and complete insight into the character of the Montessori classroom.

Dr. Martin recognized that "This misreading of the Italian word `Casa' as `house' has effectively cut off two generations of American educators from a new and intriguing vision of what school can and should be. Read `casa' as `house' and your attention is drawn to the child-sized furniture, the Montessori materials, the exercises in practical life, the principal of self-education.

But if you read `casa' as `home' and you begin to perceive a moral and social dimension that transforms your understanding of Montessori's idea of a school. Once I realized that she thought of school on the model of a home, the elements of her system took on a different configuration. Where before I had seen small children manipulating concrete learning materials, I now recognized a domestic scene with its own special form of social life and education."

Reynolds realized that what Montessori had established was not simply a classroom in which children would be taught to read and write. The Casa dei Bambini represented a social and emotional environment where children would be respected and empowered as individual human beings. It was an extended family, a community in which children truly belonged and really took care of one another. Montessori described this sense of belonging as "valorization of the personality," a strong sense of self-respect and personal identity. Within this safe and empowering community, the young child learned at the deepest possible level to believe in herself. In an atmosphere of independence within community and personal empowerment, she never lost her sense of curiosity and innate ability to learn and discover. Confident in herself, she opened up to the world around her and found that mistakes were not something to be feared, but rather the endless opportunity to learn from experience.

This special relationship that is so common between Montessori children and their teachers and schools is very different from and much more dramatic than the experience most children have in school.

Many Montessori students describe their experience in words quite similar to these written by Frances Merenda, a 1990 graduate of the Barrie School in Silver Spring, Maryland.

"I started in Montessori at age 2. I'm a product of the entire system. I did well in the lower grades and upper school. But still, many people wondered if I had been prepared for college, whether I could `make it' in a `real school.' The skepticism of so many acquaintances was so disconcerting that I never bothered to step back and see what 15 years of trust, respect, teaching, and learning had done for me. When I went off to college at Northwestern University, I left my support system and community behind and entered a world that was much colder and uncaring. At first, I deeply missed that sense of belonging. I didn't realize that Barrie had not only given me a second family, but had also taught me how to build new friendships, support systems, and community wherever I go. Now, at Northwestern, I have used my years of experience in community building to cultivate secure relationships with people I have come to know. Barrie did more for me than just prepare me academically for college, it prepared me for anything to which I chose to apply myself. I feel prepared for life and I wouldn't want it any other way."

To understand how this evolved, it's helpful to understand the world in which Montessori lived at the time she developed her educational approach.

Montessori was a professor of medicine, specializing in psychiatry. At that time, there was no such thing as Freud's `talking cure.' There were basically two approaches to the treatment of disturbed individuals. The most common and familiar to modern readers was to confine people who acted strangely to insane asylums. The second, and almost forgotten, approach was the "Moral Education" movement that spread across Europe and North America during the 1700 and 1800s. These therapeutic communities were villages set off in the country where chronically despondent or non-violently dysfunctional individuals lives in group settings with caring individuals.

The fundamental principal of the Moral Education movement was respect and kindness. Instead of treating their patients as prisoners, the staff acted on the belief that within each human being there is a core of goodness and a "sound mind." The community lived and worked together as an extended family, and developed a sense of belonging that is clearly reminiscent of what we see in our children's classrooms today.

These communities were much like an Israeli Kibbutz, self-sufficient farming communities in which each individual was encouraged to become more independent while contributing to the overall operation of the village. Patients lived in small homes with a couple who served as their mentors. Surviving reports suggest that a tremendous bond developed among those who lived and worked together. The movement recorded success rates that were far more effective than traditional approaches; returning their clients to their home communities as productive, happy citizens after an average stay of eleven months. A sense of close personal community and positive human relationships was proven successful as a means to help bring these disturbed people back to reality.

Montessori was well aware of this movement through her medical research into innovative strategies for treating the retarded, autistic, and emotionally disturbed. She used this same model with tremendous success in her own work with retarded and autistic children in Rome, and later hypothesized that even more dramatic results might be achieved with "normal" children. Her first "Children's Community" was made up of 50 inner-city children from dysfunctional families. In her book The Montessori Method

Montessori describes the transformation that took place during the first few months of operation, as the children evolved into a "family." The children had a sense of becoming the owners of their school. They were encouraged to rearrange the furniture, prepare and serve the daily meals, wash the pots and dishes, help the younger children bathe and change their clothes, sweep, clean, and work in the class garden. Through their day-to-day involvement in their classroom community, Montessori saw these children develop a sense of maturity and connectedness that helped them realize a much higher level of their potential as human beings.

While times have changed, the need to feel connected is still as strong as ever. In fact, for today's children it is probably even more important.

Whether it's an inner-city child or a child from an affluent suburb, the sense of community has all but disappeared from our children's lives. Families regularly move from house to house and from town to town. Grandparents usually live in other cities or other states. Both parents work out of necessity, and when they are at home, they are very, very busy.

The "Latch-key" child has become the norm for this generation. Many children have the sense that they do not belong to anything or anybody, which is why gangs, which give a sense of belonging, have always had a certain appeal for some children. According to one study after another, astounding numbers of preteens and teenagers engage in sexual activity in their homes after school before their parents come home from work. What is most disturbing is that for most of these children sex doesn't represent either love or lust, but a simple need for human contact, to be hugged and touched, a need to not be so incredibly alone in the world. Along with whatever else Montessori gives our children, it definitely gives them the message that they belong - that their school is like a second family. Studies on the moral and emotional development of children strongly suggests that while there are probably a few children in every thousand who are truly little "gangsters" at heart, a child's sense of moral reasoning and sense of self are directly related. Children will normally grow up to be productive, happy, positive individuals if given the right emotional environment. It seems clear that our attitudes about people, the ability to overcome our tendency to be ego-centric, our willingness to share, to compromise, to resolve conflicts non-violently, and our ability to discover a basic sense of self-worth are not qualities that human beings develop spontaneously, but rather through years of experience with caring people who convince us that we belong and give us the opportunity to practice and master these skills of everyday living. As in all things, we "learn by doing."

One of the greatest strengths in the approach that Montessori developed is the three-year age grouping that you will find in every Montessori school. By consciously bringing children together in a group that is large enough that it will allow for two-thirds of the children to return every year, the school environment promotes continuity and the development of a very different level of relationship between children and their peers, as well as between children and their teachers.

For teachers this relationship presents itself as a commitment that they make to stay with the children in their class for a prolonged period of time, rather than just jumping from job to job or from classroom to administration. Montessori teachers do more than present curriculum. The secret of any great teacher is helping the learner get to the point that their minds and hearts are open and they are ready to learn, where the motivation is not focused on getting good grades, but involves a basic love of learning. As parents know their own children's learning styles and temperaments, teachers too develop this sense of each child's uniqueness by developing a relationship over a period of years with the child and her parents.

Montessori schools give our children not only the sense of belonging to a family, but also of how to live with other human beings. By creating a bond of parents, teachers, and children Montessori sought to create a community where individuals could learn to be empowered, where children could learn to be a part of families, where they could learn to care of younger children, learn from older people, trust one another, and find ways to be properly assertive rather than aggressive. To reduce these principles to the most simplistic form, Montessori proposed that we could make peace by healing the wounds of the human heart and by producing a child that is more secure. She envisioned her movement as essentially leading to a reconstruction of society.

Montessori schools are different, but it isn't just because of the materials that are used in the classrooms. Look beyond the pink towers and golden beads, and you'll discover that the classroom is a place where children really want to be - because it feels a lot like home.

4. Why Montessori For The Kindergarten Year?
North Garland Montessori School - FAQ - Why Montessori For The Kindergarten Year?

It's re-enrollment time again, and in thousands of Montessori schools all over America parents of four-almost-five-year-olds are trying to decide whether or not they should keep their sons and daughters in Montessori for kindergarten or send them off to the local schools.

The advantages of using the local schools often seem obvious, while those of staying in Montessori are often not at all clear. When you can use the local schools for free, why would anyone want to invest thousands of dollars in another year's tuition?

Its a fair question and it deserves a careful answer. Obviously there is no one right answer for every child. Often the decision depends on where each family places its priorities and how strongly parents sense that one school or another more closely fits in with their hopes dreams for their children.

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Naturally, to some degree the answer is also often connected to the question of family income as well, although we are often amazed at how often families with very modest means who place a high enough priority on their children's education will scrape together the tuition needed to keep them in Montessori.

When a child transfers from Montessori to a new kindergarten, she spends the first few months adjusting to a new class, a new teacher, and a whole new system with different expectations. This, along with the fact that most kindergartens have a much lower set of expectations for five-year-olds than most Montessori programs, severely cuts into the learning that could occur during this crucial year of their lives.

Montessori is an approach to working with children that is carefully based on what we've learned about child development from several decades of research. Although sometimes misunderstood, the Montessori approach has been acclaimed as the most developmentally appropriate model currently available by some of America's top experts on early childhood and elementary education.

As a "developmental" approach, Montessori is based on a realistic understanding of children's cognitive, neurological and emotional development.

One important difference between what Montessori offers the five-year-old and what is offered by many of today's kindergarten programs has to do with how it helps the young child to learn how to learn.

A great deal of research shows that quite often students in traditional programs don't really understand most of what they are being taught. Harvard Psychologist and author of The Unschooled Mind, Howard Gardner, goes so far as to suggest that "Many schools have fallen into a pattern of giving kids exercises and drills that result in their getting answers on tests that look like understanding."

But several decades of research into how children learn have shown that most students, from as young as those in kindergarten to students in some of the finest colleges in America do not, as Gardener puts it, "understand what they've studied, in the most basic sense of the term. They lack the capacity to take knowledge learned in one setting and apply it appropriately in a different setting. Study after study has found that, by and large, even the best students in the best schools can't do that." (On Teaching For Understanding: A Conversation with Howard Gardner, by Ron Brandt, Educational Leadership Magazine, ASCD, 1994.)

Montessori is focused on teaching for understanding. In a primary classroom, three and four-year-olds receive the benefit of two years of sensorial preparation for academic skills by working with the concrete Montessori learning materials. This concrete sensorial experience gradually allows the child to form a mental picture of concepts like "how big is a thousand, how many hundreds make up a thousand, and what is really going on when we borrow or carry numbers in mathematical operations.

The value of the sensorial experiences that the younger children have had in Montessori are often under-estimated. Research is very clear that this is how the young child learns, by observing and manipulating his environment. The Montessori materials give the child a concrete sensorial impression of an abstract concept, such as long division, that is the potential foundation for a lifetime understanding of the idea in abstraction.

Because Montessori teachers are developmentally trained, they normally know how to present information in an appropriate way.

What often happens in schools is that teachers are not developmentally trained and children are essentially filling in workbook pages with little understanding and do a great deal of rote learning. Superficially, it may appear that they have learned a lot, but the reality is most often that what they have learned was not meaningful to the child. A few months down the road, little of what they "learned" will be retained and it will be rare for them to be able to use their knowledge and skills in new situations. More and more educational researchers are beginning to focus on whether students, whether young or adult, really understand or have simply memorized correct answers.

In a few cases, kindergarten Montessori children may not look as if they are not as advanced as a child in a very academically accelerated program, but what they do know they usually know very well. Their understanding of the decimal system, place value, mathematical operations, and similar information is usually very sound. With reinforcement as they grow older, it becomes internalized and a permanent part of who they are. When they leave Montessori before they have had the time to internalize these early concrete experiences, their early learning often evaporates because it is neither reinforced nor commonly understood.

In a class with such a wide age range of children, won't my five-year-old spend the year taking care of younger children instead of doing his or her own work?

The five year olds in Montessori classes often help the younger children with their work, actually teaching lessons or correcting errors. This leads some parents to worry that their Many Montessori educators believe that this concern felt by some parents is very misguided.

Anyone who has ever had to teach a skill to someone else may recall that the very process of explaining a new concept or helping someone practice a new skill leads the teacher to learn as much, if not more, than the pupil. This is supported by research. When one child tutors another, the tutor normally learns more from the experience than the person being tutored. Experiences that facilitate development of independence and autonomy are often very limited in traditional schools.

By the end of age five, Montessori students will often develop academic skills that may be beyond those advanced. Academic progress is not our ultimate goal. Our real hope is that they will feel good about themselves and enjoy learning. Mastering basic skills is a side goal.

Montessori children are generally doing very well academically by the end of kindergarten, although that is not our ultimate objective. The program offers them enriched lessons in math, reading, and language, and if they are ready, they normally develop excellent skills.

The key concept is readiness. If a child is developmentally not ready to go on, he or she is neither left behind nor made to feel like a failure. Our goal is not ensuring that children develop at a predetermined rate, but to ensure that whatever they do, they do well and master. Most Montessori children master a tremendous amount of information and skills, and even in the cases where children may not have made as much progress as we would have wished, they usually have done a good job with their work, wherever they have progressed at any given point, and feel good about themselves as learners.

Learning to be organized and learning to be focused is as important as any academic work. Doing worksheets quickly can be impressive to parents, but there is rarely any deep learning going on.

5. Why are the classrooms so quiet, and the children so serious?
North Garland Montessori School - FAQ - Why are the classrooms so quiet, and the children so serious?

The Montessori school day is divided into work periods and play periods. Work periods usually last about two hours in the morning for the youngest children, with another two hours in the afternoon for those older students who stay a full day. During these times, you are likely to see children intent upon learning their alphabet using letters cut out of sandpaper. One may be studying basic math concepts using beads strung together in groups of five, ten, etc., while another student is painting or making a collage. This is a busy time for the children, and that serious look you see is a focused look. An adult playing tennis isn't always smiling, but is usually having fun. It's the same with these children. You also need to remember that these children are choosing to do whatever it is they are doing. They have many options, and are empowered to do what interests them most, presumably, what is most fun for them.

6. Why should you choose a Montessori education for your child?
North Garland Montessori School - FAQ - Why should you choose a Montessori education for your child?

Between the ages of 2 and 4 is when most of your child's intelligence and social characteristics will be formed. This is also when your child is most receptive, curious, and excited about exploring the world around him or her. A Montessori classroom nurtures that excitement and curiosity by offering a variety of materials to stimulate and intrigue your child. The Montessori teacher is trained to recognize when a child is ready to learn a new skill, and to foster his or her natural instincts and abilities. Your child is valued as an independent thinker, and encouraged to make choices on his or her own. A Montessori education provides students of all ages with information in a way they can understand it and enjoy it -- learning is fun, empowering, and custom-fit to suit your child's individual learning style.

7. What do you have to offer that my child that can't get at other local schools?
North Garland Montessori School - FAQ - What do you have to offer that my child that can't get at other local schools?

The Montessori approach to education is unique. You will see that the minute you walk into one of our classrooms. The materials used to teach reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, science, social studies are all unique to the Montessori classroom. Maria Montessori, a physician who developed the materials and educational philosophy upon which our school is built, recognized the important impact that physiological and neurological development have on a child's learning. The classroom materials she developed for our youngest students, for example, take abstract ideas and put them in a concrete form that makes sense to these developing minds. Unlike other schools, your child will also share his or her Montessori classroom with older and/or younger students. Our Primary classrooms have children age 3 to 6 learning alongside each other. This way, students learn to learn from their peers, and respect their own and each other's ability to be a teacher as well as a student. Finally, our teachers use didactic approaches; they are primarily observers of their students, stepping in when they see a child is "stuck" or ready to learn a new skill. This allows the children to learn independently, with the guidance and support of a teacher whose primary focus is observing how your child learns, and tapping into those styles and approaches that work best for your child.

8. What makes your school special?
North Garland Montessori School - FAQ - What makes your school special?

We are committed not only to helping your child learn the information and the skills he or she needs in order to cope with the challenges of today's world; we are committed to nurturing your child's love of learning, and to make education a fun, relevant activity for your child. Because we believe that education is more than strong academics, our school is a place to learn not only facts, but also to learn respect for the rights of others, and to learn to make choices that reflect a healthy self-confidence as well as a social conscience.

9. What are the families like who make up your school community?
North Garland Montessori School - FAQ - What are the families like who make up your school community?

Most of our families live in the Dallas County areas. Our school is located on 1613 N. Garland Avenue, between Buckingham Rd. and Walnut Street, making us geographically convenient for commuters. We are a culturally diverse community, with a significant international population, as the Montessori approach is recognized worldwide. Our families share a common commitment to quality education that fosters a love of learning, a deep sense of self-esteem and respect for others. Our families are also strongly committed to understanding the Montessori approach and supporting the development of their children into independent, creative thinkers.

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